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Conservation organizations worry about losing tax-exempt status

Minnesotans value nature and the outdoors. In order to keep the state's natural heritage vibrant, conservation groups may buy up pieces of land in order to prevent development. These groups often rely on achieving tax-exempt status in order to continue to fulfill their mission of preserving natural beauty. Without tax exemptions, it may become very difficult -- or impossible -- to continue operating.

An ongoing tax controversy in Massachusetts might be of interest to Minnesota conservation groups, as it could set an example. The New England Forestry Foundation is currently facing property tax assessments from a municipal government. City officials say they've levied the tax because the group isn't fulfilling the requirements to maintain their exemption.

The city's primary contention is that the forestry group hasn't promoted public use of the conserved land as much as they should. In order to keep tax-exempt status, the organization should serve the public interest, and the city government claims they aren't doing so.

As this tax dispute is being handled in the state supreme court, the obvious concern for conservation groups is that other local governments could begin to assess taxes on land set aside for preservation. As such, it could send a shockwave through conservation groups in Massachusetts -- and maybe beyond state borders. Many local governments are facing budgetary issues, so they could be motivated to collect more taxes, even if it means jeopardizing the future of these groups.

Losing tax-exempt status is something that many non-profit groups might be concerned about. As such, these kinds of claims should not be taken lightly. The hope is that organizations can continue to make tax exemptions and serve individuals and communities alike.

Source: BizJournals.com, "SJC hears challenge to Mass. conservation group's tax-exempt status," Thomas Grillo, Jan. 6, 2014

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